Group sets deadline for division of jail space

The working group is to have its report before a federal judge by May 1.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's Criminal Justice Working Group may decide by default how county jail space will be shared by common pleas, county and municipal courts.
U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd wants county judges to respond by April 7 to his request for ways to avoid jail overcrowding by allocating jail beds to offenders from each court.
"If the courts cannot agree, or if the courts themselves for some reason do not file something with Judge Dowd, the working group will come up with its own recommendation" in its final report to Judge Dowd due May 1, said John A. McNally IV, working group chairman and a county commissioner.
Working group members are trying to resolve problems that affect law enforcement, the prosecutor's office, the courts and the jail.
Jail population was limited after inmates won a federal lawsuit last year, and Judge Dowd declared the overcrowded, understaffed jail to be unconstitutional.
Common pleas court judges also issued a 13-step emergency release mechanism to control jail population. That mechanism has been a topic of discussion for the working group because of lower court judges' concerns that the misdemeanor offenders they sentence are among the first to be furloughed.
What's been happening
Some judges have been issuing "do not release" orders to keep individuals in jail. That's a contributing factor in the cap of 296 inmates' being exceeded. As many as 400 inmates have been held recently, McNally said.
"We're well aware that additional space is needed for municipal and county courts," McNally said. The consensus of the working group is that the courts should address the issue, either individually or collectively, he added.
The working group, which has been meeting weekly for the past three weeks, wants to discuss the courts' plan on jail bed allocation at its April 4 meeting. If the courts don't act, the working group will address the issue at its remaining meetings in April, McNally said.
The working group also has brought in facilitators to bring "order and structure to our discussions," McNally said. The facilitators are Jim Conser, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, and Suzanne Fleming, from YSU's Public Service Institute.
Though working group members recently discussed opening its meetings to the public, a majority wants discussions to remain confidential. McNally and Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of common pleas court serve as spokesmen.

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